JoAnn (Jody) Gillerman 


All Chimps

(Chimps explore outside grounds for first time)

Video - JoAnn GIllerman © 2018


Video (30 minutes)



Chimps live in groups and form alliances. An alpha male is alpha because the group as a whole decides it that way. It is not necessarily the strongest or the smartest male that is dominant. The females play an inmportant role in deciding these things ...

The 8 Chimp Group at the Saint Louis Zoo was comprised mostly of orphaned chimps whose mothers abandoned them at birth, so they were raised in captivity. None are related except for Smoke who is the father of Cinder. Smoke, 39 years old (2005), was the only one of the group who was born in the wild. He was captured and put in a lab when he was five ... the zoo rescued him from the lab a few years later.

A series of tunnels lead from the inside chimp "display" to the new outside open yard. When doors opened for the very first time on April 18, 2005, the chimps could be heard loudly screeching, barking, trumpeting. Most had never experienced grass under food, a falling leaf, wind or a bee, and certainly not an airplane!

When I was invited to video the chimps coming outside for the very first time in their lives, the area was cordoned off to everyone except the curator of the primates, ape keepers, a veterinarian and me. Chimps are intellegent, and frequently bored in captivity, so a tranquilizer gun was on the reaedy to quiet a potential escapee from the untested new outside habitat complete with waterfalls, pools, trees, rocks and grass - and most importantly no enclosure over their heads. Armed guards with guns were on the perimeters. I was informed about non-threatening postures to assume lest one of the CHimps escaped ... (one greets a chimp with the back of one's hand ...)

It was not expected that most of the chimps would be agraid to come out ... some for almost 2 years!!!


ARTIST STATEMENT / JoAnn (Jody) Gillerman

It was truly a privilege to have opportunity to work with live chimpanzees at the Saint Louis Zoo. The resulting and evolving work, LIAISON (Live Interactive Animal Identification System aned Observation Network™) prototype, installed at the Saint Louis Zoo, is a bridge between live chimpanzees and the public. LIAISON ("Chimp FInder") was part of the Fragile Forest Exhibit that opened to the public May 2005 in St. Louis, Missouri.

The process of creating LIAISON over a two year period involved extensive design, fabrication, installation, production, video recording on-site, observing animal behavior and chimp politics of the group, and connecting with individual chimps.

Callaboratively, Rob Terry and I co-designed, created and invented all parts of the installation - custom hardware and software - for LIAISON, a "Live Interactive Animal Identification System and Observation Network™". An electronic viewing scope, when pointed at a chimp, could identify which chimp it was looking at. Through the scope's interactive touch activated display, visitors made a personal connection to a specific chimp as they identified him/her and explored personal info on that animal.

The number of chimps in the wild is stsaggerinly small. It is possible that within two generations from now, they could be extinct in teh wild. As an artist and educator, I hope this work, a liaison between live chimpanzees and the public, will raise awareness for conservation of thes amazing primates who are a mere two chromosomes away from us.

Jody (JoAnn) GIllerman